http://www.startribune.com/535/story/1061103.html Target is transferring cashiers who avoid pork Some Somali Muslims say the retailer is overreacting to customer criticism. By Chris Serres and Matt McKinney, Star Tribune Last update: March 16, 2007 – 10:00 PM Printer friendly E-mail this storySave to del.icio.us Mohamed Muse works in produce. Glen Stubbe , Star Tribune In the wake of community criticism, Target Corp. is reassigning its Muslim cashiers who refuse to ring up pork products for religious reasons to other jobs at the stores. Target received a wave of criticism earlier this week after the Star Tribune reported in a front-page article that some Muslim cashiers at Target declined to scan bacon and other pork products. They would call over another cashier to ring up the products, or in some cases, ask customers to do it themselves. Some customers called and wrote Target to complain about the practice; a few called for a general boycott of Target on the Star Tribune's community blog, buzz.mn. After the story appeared, Target asked Muslim cashiers who refuse to handle pork to wear gloves or transfer to other areas of the stores. In some cases, Muslim cashiers will be given the option of transferring to other stores. "We are confident that this is a reasonable solution for our guests and team members," Target spokeswoman Paula Thornton-Greear said in a statement. It remains unclear whether wages would be affected by any job transfers; cashiers are generally entry-level positions at Target. "Blown way out of proportion" The move is an effort by Target to balance the religious rights of its employees with customer demands for prompt service. However, some Somali Muslims in the Twin Cities said that the retailer is overreacting to public pressure and that stores should be able to accommodate Muslim cashiers without disrupting service. "This is being blown way out of proportion," said Abdi Sheikhosman, a professor of Islamic law at the University of Minnesota Law School. "Pork products represent a very small percentage of Target's overall products. ... Accommodations could have been made." Target's new policy is similar to ones at other grocery stores in the area. Spokespeople for the chains that operate Cub and Rainbow food stores said Muslims who share concerns about pork during the interview process are told of opportunities in departments such as dairy, floral or customer service that don't involve handling pork. "There are many jobs in the grocery store that do not involve handling pork," said Vivian King, a spokeswoman for Roundy's, which owns Rainbow stores. Each Target store appears to have some leeway in implementing the new policy. At the downtown Minneapolis Target, employees were called into one-on-one meetings Thursday and asked whether they were opposed to handling pork for religious reasons. Those who said yes were told they could no longer work as cashiers during the store's busiest hours, 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., according to an employee at the store who requested anonymity. At the SuperTarget off Hwy. 7 in St. Louis Park, which has a full grocery section, Muslim cashiers who said they refuse to handle pork were transferred Thursday to the sales floor to stock shelves or fold clothes. It remained unclear whether that change is permanent. The store manager declined to be interviewed, and Thornton-Greear said the company wouldn't discuss the situation at specific stores. Suhara Robla, a 20-year-old employee at the store, said more than a dozen Muslim cashiers were asked Thursday to do other jobs. "They told all of us who don't touch pork to go to the sales floor," she said. "They really didn't say why. They just said it was a new policy." Sinful to sell pork? Many Muslims believe the pig is an unclean animal and consider it a sin to eat pork. The Qur'an has multiple passages in which Allah instructs believers to avoid eating pig flesh. It is so core to their beliefs that some consider it sinful to sell the meat, because that encourages others to participate in a sinful act. In the Muslim world, there is even a stronger taboo against pork than alcohol, said Owais Bayunus, an imam at the Abu Khudra Mosque in Columbia Heights. Wearing gloves will not solve the issue, he said. "There is a school of thought within the Muslim community that if you sell pork or alcohol to someone, then you are contributing to the propagation of a sinful activity," he said. "Many Muslims do not want to see non-Muslims involved in a sinful product." At Target stores, some Muslim cashiers opposed to selling pork had grown accustomed to waving over other employees whenever they came across bacon, ham or other pork products, even pepperoni pizza. In many cases, they simply switched on a little light above their registers and another cashier would rush to their side and swipe the product for them. The practice seemed to work well for Robla. She said she needed help scanning pork products only "about two or three times a day." In other cases, customers would volunteer to swipe the items themselves. Occasionally, however, Robla said, people would get annoyed when she told them it was because of her religion. "Some people would say, 'If you won't scan it, then I don't want this thing,' " she said. "I don't understand it. Some people don't even want to wait a few seconds." Mohamed Muse, who also works at the St. Louis Park store but not as a cashier, has no problems with the new policy. "If someone is trying to buy pork, you can't just say, 'Wait here,' " he said. "You can't put a hold on the work system." Muse, speaking to a reporter Friday afternoon at the Somali mall just off Lake Street, said when he applied for his job six months ago, a human-resources worker asked him whether he could handle pork. Muse, who arrived in the country eight months ago after immigrating with his family from Nairobi, Kenya, said no. "They said OK. So I work mostly with fruits and vegetables overnight," he said. "It was really no problem." Still, he understands some of the controversy, which has included discussions on area talk-radio stations. "People are sensitive," he said. "They say, 'You are trying to force me to [your] religion! You are losing my time!' All that stuff."